For months we’ve been seeing chicory’s daisy-like blue flowers blooming by the roads and trails.
Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is native to Europe where it’s been cultivated as food for people and forage for livestock since at least Roman times. Settlers brought it to North America for food and it soon became a weed. In Colorado it’s listed as a noxious weed.
We eat chicory’s leaves, buds and roots but we call it by different names depending on its purpose. The varieties grown for leaves and buds are called endive, radicchio, Belgian endive, sugarloaf (and others). The variety grown for roots is called chicory. Just to confuse things, in the U.S. chicory’s close relative curly endive (Cichorium endivia) is sometimes called chicory.
Chicory roots are minced, roasted, ground, and then blended with coffee or brewed as a substitute. Since chicory has no caffeine, it’s a good coffee substitute if you like the taste. Otherwise people drink it straight when they can’t get coffee, usually during economic crises and wars such as the Great Depression and World War II. New Orleans still prefers chicory-blend coffee, a tradition since the Civil War.
If you eat chicory from the wild you’ll find it’s bitter compared to cultivated varieties. Remember, don’t forage by busy roads. Those plants absorb pollution from vehicles and residue from pesticide and defoliant sprays.
Read more about chicory, foraging and brewing at these links:
When I wrote about cardinal flower in late August Carol Smith remarked, “By now my cardinal flower is finished blooming. Yesterday we saw three hummers at one time sipping nectar from great blue lobelia flowers. Even though they aren’t red, they are apparently a good nectar source and … they bloom a little later. “
Perhaps the hummingbirds saw the flowers’ resemblance. Great lobelia or great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) is in the same genus as cardinal flower. The plants are a similar height and the flowers a similar shape.
Great lobelia grows in medium to wet soil so it tolerates drier locations than cardinal flower. The blue one will grow in a drainage ditch by the trail; the red one always has wet feet.
I don’t have to bushwhack to get close to great lobelia. I took this photo while standing above the plant.
Notice how the flowers spiral around the stem — another example of the Fibonacci sequence that I wrote about this week.
Big and blue this lobelia is great.
(photos of great lobelia by Kate St. John; cardinal flower by Tim Vechter)
Right now it’s too hot to wear long pants while hiking, but I wear them anyway to protect my legs from poison ivy and stinging nettle.
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is hard to avoid in early September. Three to seven feet tall, it leans into the trail completely coated with hollow stinging hairs that contain histamines and painful chemicals. The whole plant is shown below with the closeup circled in red.
A gentle brush against the plant causes the hollow hairs to detach and become needles in your skin. The sting is memorable. For those desperate to hold the plant a firm grasp flattens the hairs so that fewer penetrate. This is counter-intuitive and not for the faint of heart.
That’s the bad news, here’s the good. Stinging nettle is the host plant for quite a few butterflies and moths. Here are two North American butterflies whose caterpillars rely on it:
As with many things, a closer look reveals both pros and cons.
UPDATE: Another good thing (sort of). Several readers have pointed out that stinging nettle is edible. Yes, it is. My 1975 edition of The Joy of Cooking has a recipe for nettle soup. The first step is: “Using rubber gloves to protect you from the stinging nettles, remove the central stem from 1 quart of young nettle tops.” You’d have to gather a quart of young nettle tops. No thank you!
(photo credits: green stinging nettle and question mark photos by Kate St. John; closeup of stinging nettle stingers from Wikimedia Commons, red admiral butterfly by Dianne Machesney)
By August each fertilized flower has turned into a fruit, a mayapple.
The entire mayapple plant is poisonous but there’s a brief window in August when the fruit is ripe and safe to eat. Chipmunks and deer know this, too, so if you want to risk tasting a ripe fruit, you’ll have to beat them to it.
Ripe elderberries (Sambucus genus) are hard to find this month. They’re so popular with birds that the ripe ones disappear immediately.
The cluster, above, was the only purple one I found last week. The rest were carefully picked over, leaving green berries and bare stems.
Other fruits await birds, too: black raspberries (Rubus genus) in the thickets, hackberries (Celtis genus) in the trees, and porcelain berries (Ampelopsis glandulosa) on the vine. Unfortunately, the porcelain berries are invasive.
It won’t be long before the poke berries turn purple.
It’s a colorful conspiracy to tempt birds to eat the fruit and disperse the seeds, perhaps far away on migration.
Yellow flowers are abundant in the summer while some of the rarest flowers are purple. Here are four rare plants I’ve never seen.
Dianne Machesney visited Lynx Prairie in Adams County, Ohio in late July to see scaly blazing star (Liatris squarrosa), above. It doesn’t occur in Pennsylvania though we have it’s cousin dense blazing star (Liatris spicata) at Jennings Prairie. The two plants differ in this way: “Scaly” flowers are clustered at the tip, “dense” flowers coat the long spike.